With The Help Of Renewables, California Emissions Fall Below 1990 Levels

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has announced a significant milestone for the state: Greenhouse-gas (GHG) pollution in California has fallen below 1990 levels for the first time since emissions peaked in 2004 – an achievement roughly equal to taking 12 million cars off the road or saving 6 billion gallons of gasoline per year.

Under A.B.32, passed in 2006, California must reduce its emissions to 1990 levels (431 million metric tons) by 2020, which has now been achieved. The newly published 2016 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory shows that California emitted 429 million metric tons of climate pollutants in 2016 – a drop of 12 million metric tons, or 3%, from 2015, according to CARB.

“California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress and delivered results,” says Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif. “The next step is for California to cut emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 – a heroic and very ambitious goal.”

“In California, we see the impacts of climate change all around us, but our efforts to curb its worst impacts are on track. We are well-positioned to meet the challenge of the 2030 target,” says Mary D. Nichols, CARB’s chair. “This is great news for the health of Californians, the state’s environment and its economy, even as we face the failure of our national leadership to address climate change.”

In addition, S.B.32, signed in 2016, requires the state to go even further than A.B.32 and cut emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

CARB says the state’s annual emissions inventory helps keep the state accountable for meeting its emissions-reduction targets. Highlights from the newly released inventory include as follows:

  • Carbon pollution dropped 13% statewide since a 2004 peak; meanwhile, the economy grew 26%.
  • Per capita emissions continue to be among the lowest in the country. They fell 23% from a peak of 14 metric tons per person (roughly equal to driving 34,000 miles) in 2001 to 10.8 metric tons per person in 2016 (roughly equal to driving 26,000 miles). That is approximately half as much as the national average.
  • Carbon pollution dropped 3% between 2015 and 2016 – roughly equal to taking 2.4 million cars off the road or saving 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel.
  • The “carbon intensity” of California’s economy – the amount of carbon pollution emitted per $1 million of gross state product – dropped 38% since the 2001 peak and is now one-half the national average.
  • California now produces twice as many goods and services for the same total of greenhouse-gas emissions as the rest of the nation.
  • Electricity generation had the largest decline among the sectors. Emissions from this sector declined 18% in 2016, reflecting continued growth in renewable energy – such as solar, wind and geothermal – as a result of the state’s renewable portfolio standard and a corresponding drop in natural gas generation. Solar electricity in all forms, including rooftop generation, grew 33%, while natural gas fell more than 15%.

Thanks to the carbon price signal created by the cap-and-trade program – making fossil fuel generation more expensive – cleaner, out-of-state electricity is increasingly taking the place of fuels such as coal, says CARB. This included more imports of hydroelectric power from outside the state, which grew by nearly 39% in 2016 thanks to abundant rainfall throughout the West Coast.

“Emissions may vary from year-to-year depending on the weather and other factors,” says Richard Corey, CARB’s executive officer. “However, this inventory demonstrates that our policies are working to incentivize GHG-free energy sources and ensure the state remains on track to meet its climate targets in 2020 and beyond.”

The transportation sector, the state’s largest source of greenhouse gases, saw a 2% increase in emissions in 2016 because of increased fuel consumption, notes CARB. But the state also saw cars and trucks use a record amount of biofuels – 1.5 billion gallons in all – as a result of the state’s low-carbon fuel standard. These low-carbon alternative fuels, consisting mostly of biodiesel, renewable diesel and ethanol, avoided 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, compared to what would have happened if conventional fossil fuels had been used, the agency says.

Emissions from the industrial sector – including refineries, oil and gas extraction, cement plants, and other stationary sources – fell 2% from 2015 levels, though emissions from refineries increased slightly.

CARB explains that the data is from 2016 because the process for verifying and validating required reporting of emissions from all facilities under the cap-and-trade program takes more than a year, and additional data undergoes rigorous vetting by other government agencies.

The full report can be found here.

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